The first of the preseason awards all-conference predictions are out (at least that I’ve seen), which means the debates can begin.
Athlon Sports released its 2018 All-B1G teams on Thursday, and naturally, the question everyone wants to know is who got snubbed.
I thought there were four surprising omissions to the preseason squads:
1. Steven Gonzalez, Penn State OG
Here’s a not-so-bold prediction. After Trace McSorley finishes crushing homers to celebrate touchdowns, he’s going to find Gonzalez, who will lift the Penn State quarterback high in the air. That’ll happen a lot in 2018. Why? Gonzalez is a good bet to make the key block that allowed the big play to happen.
While Penn State’s offensive line had its issues last year, Gonzalez was the star of the group. He was a first-team All-B1G selection by Pro Football Focus with an 84.6 grade as a left guard. Quietly, he freed up many big-time plays for Saquon Barkley (via Sideline Spotlight):
Gonzalez was one of the few staples Penn State had on the offensive line last year as a sophomore. As a redshirt junior, Gonzalez will be on his third year in the system — he admitted he didn’t have much confidence when he became a full-time starter at the end of 2016 — and the Lions will rely on him a lot.
I was a bit surprised that fellow Penn State offensive linemen Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern got nods on Athlon’s team but Gonzalez didn’t. I’d expect to opening up plenty of running lanes for Miles Sanders, while also paving the way for McSorley to swing for the fences.
2. Andrew Van Ginkel, Wisconsin LB
One of the more underrated elements of that Badger defense, especially down the stretch, was the emergence of Van Ginkel. In each of Wisconsin’s final eight games of 2017, Van Ginkel contributed on at least one tackle for loss. Actually, that excludes the B1G Championship. But that’s OK because Van Ginkel had a pick-six and he forced a fumble (via Tranhong Tran).
Van Ginkel was built to thrive as an EDGE playmaker in that 3-4 defense. The former JUCO transfer finished his first season in Madison with 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions 1 fumble recovery and 1 touchdown. Not too shabby.
Without the likes of Leon Jacobs and Garret Dooley, Van Ginkel is going to see an increase in reps. That likely means his numbers will be in for a nice bump.
I get that T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly have been doing their things for a longer period of time and were deserving selections, but I’d argue that there’s a decent chance that Van Ginkel ends up being the best playmaker of all of them.
3. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan WR
Yeah, I know. He struggled mightily at times with route-running and drops in his true freshman season. Those are pretty important things for a receiver. He did make the Athlon second-team as a punt returner, which he deserved after what he did as a true freshman.
But I’m doubling down on Peoples-Jones as a receiver. I think a kid that smart will make the necessary offseason adjustments, and coupled with an actual quarterback who can get him the ball (Shea Patterson), Peoples-Jones is a good candidate to bounce back. I think Michigan uses some of the west-coast principles to get the former 5-star receiver the ball in space.
I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised that Peoples-Jones wasn’t a preseason All-B1G selection considering he’s still trying to get his first receiving touchdown of his college career. But after getting a full dosage of battling elite cornerbacks on the outside, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he developed into an All-B1G wideout in his second season.
4. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State QB
In the six seasons that Urban Meyer has been at Ohio State, he failed to produce a first- or second-team All-B1G quarterback once. That was in the 2015 season when Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett went back and forth as the starter (Nate Sudfeld, who was Kevin Wilson’s quarterback at Indiana, was a third-team selection).
With Joe Burrow off to LSU, we know that Dwayne Haskins is going to be the starter. In terms of touch and pure passing talent, he might have the most of all of Meyer’s quarterbacks.
Let’s not forget that while the sample size is small, we’ve still seen Haskins make some pretty incredible throws (via Billy George):
It was a surprising omission from this list because while the Buckeyes are loaded at tailback with J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, it’d be a strange development if Haskins wasn’t one of the conference’s top four quarterbacks.
I think there’s a perfectly realistic chance that Haskins throws for 25 touchdown passes and is leading Ohio State to a division title by the end of the regular season. Maybe the thinking is that without the rushing ability of Barrett, the first-year starter has a lower floor? Perhaps.
But I’d pick Haskins as a better bet to land on an all-conference team than Brian Lewerke or Alex Hornibrook. I have little doubt that Haskins will be a star in no time.